Rutgers suicide sheds light on students’ need for counseling
Published: Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, October 12, 2010 03:10
On Sept. 22, the nation watched in shock as news broke of the death of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide after his roommate allegedly filmed him having sexual relations with a man. Three days after the video was allegedly posted online, Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge.
While this incident alone was tragic, it is but one of a string of high school and college suicides committed nationwide this month.
In a 2007 study, the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control estimated that more than 1,000 suicides occur on college campuses each year, and one in 12 college students have made a suicide plan.
Rosalyn Blogier, a public health adviser at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said suicide is a serious issue among the college-age population.
"In the age group of 18 to 24, homicide is the second cause of death and suicide is third, but on a campus, suicide is second to accidents," Blogier said.
The study found some of the most prevalent reasons for this statistic are the new and unfamiliar environment of college, academic and social pressure, feelings of failure and alienation, family history of mental illness, difficulty adjusting to new demands and a lack of adequate coping skills.
Charles Beale, director at the university's Center for Counseling and Student Development, said the rate of depression among students has increased at the university.
"We have clearly seen an increase in the number of students presented for counseling, it is not unique to the University of Delaware—it's a national trend," Beale said.
He cited a national survey of counseling directors and counselors which showed an increase in the number of students seeking assistance, as well as also an increase in the severity of their concerns.
While Beale would not give information or exact statistics pertaining to campus suicides at the university, he said its incidence is not uncommon.
"I wouldn't say it's rare by any means, but we have a large student population, it's not unusual for students to think about hurting themselves," he said. "College is a difficult transition."
Transitioning can be especially difficult for students in the LGBT community, a group which has been identified as high-risk by SAMHSA.
Since Clementi's suicide, there has been a burst of public support for the LGBT community among both private citizens and celebrities.
Ellen DeGeneres produced a teen anti-bullying video, while others contributed to the "It gets better" video series on YouTube, which emphasizes that those struggling with their sexual identity are not alone.
Tim Gunn, a fashion mentor on Project Runway, created a video which pointed to the Trevor Project, the nation's leading crisis intervention organization specifically for LGBTQ—lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning—youth, as a source for help.
University alumna Laura McGinnis, the communications director for the Trevor Project, said the organization is grateful for these references.
"We're excited about the outpouring of support there's been, but also an emphasis on people who feel like they're alone, really aren't alone," she said. "There are people out there who care about them and want them to succeed and live a long happy life."
McGinnis said these videos emphasize resources that can have a tremendous impact on the way youth in crisis seek help.
"When someone is suicidal and they know about a [LGBT student union] or an affirming counselor or the Trevor lifeline, they are much more likely to reach out for help when they need it and much less likely to make a suicide attempt," she said.
Resources of the Trevor Project include a 24-hour suicide lifeline, "Trevor Chat"— a messaging service where people can speak with counselors—and Trevorspace, a social network including more than 13,000 youth participants nationwide.
The Trevor Project lifeline usually receives approximately 30,000 calls a year, McGinnis said.
"Not all of those are high risk," she said. "But every one of those calls is a crisis for someone on the other end of the line—experiencing a crisis of coming out or feeling like they've been rejected by a friend, family member or their community."
Beale said he is heartened by students' attendance at the counseling center.
"I think the good news is that students are coming in," he said. "The dilemma is our ability to be able to respond to their requests in a timely fashion."
The counseling center is seeing more and more students who have undergone previous treatment or who have been on medication or hospitalized, Beale said.
"We see 10 percent of the student population at graduation," he said. "In four years from now we will have seen 25 percent of those students who are graduating."
The university received suicide prevention and education grant funding from SAMHSA this year. The university first received the grant three years ago.
The grant has allowed the counseling center to train 650 Residence Life staff members, Public Safety members, advisers and faculty in recognizing and talking with students who might be depressed.
SAMHSA has been providing grants to colleges for mental health and suicide prevention, like the university's grant, since 2005 as part of the Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention grant. Former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith set up this particular grant in memory of his son, who committed suicide in 2003 after struggling with depression.
At the university, students are the primary way the counseling center receives referrals, and both Beale and Blogier cite this relationship as incredibly important. If students notice a friend or peer may need help, Blogier encourages them to get someone else involved.